Power, the Presidency, and the Preamble: Interpretive Essays on Selected Presidents of the United States

Power, the Presidency, and the Preamble: Interpretive Essays on Selected Presidents of the United States

Power, the Presidency, and the Preamble: Interpretive Essays on Selected Presidents of the United States

Power, the Presidency, and the Preamble: Interpretive Essays on Selected Presidents of the United States

Synopsis

Uses the Preamble of the Constitution to define a conceptual framework for studying long-term continuity and change in the presidency and in America.

Excerpt

The Constitution of 1787 was built upon the colonial experience under the British and the immediate aftermath of the Revolutionary War. The British government was perceived to be too powerful, while many deemed the Articles of Confederation adopted in 1781 to be so weak as to invite social instability. To avoid what Americans believed to be the tyrannical nature of the British government, the principles of checks and balances and separation of powers were built into the Constitution. At the same time, to correct the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation congress was granted the right to regulate interstate commerce and to tax. To provide leadership under a more energetic government than under the Articles of Confederation, the presidency was created. Under the Constitution, the president as the chief executive and commander in chief has the responsibility to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” This simple oath makes the president the fulcrum of American national politics with the duty to enforce federal laws and mandates.

The preamble of the Constitution capsulizes what has become the six major historical responsibilities of presidents sworn to uphold the Constitution: (1) form a more perfect union; (2) establish justice; (3) insure domestic tranquility; (4) provide for the common defense; (5) promote the general welfare; and (6) secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.

To a remarkable degree, all seven presidents studied in this work—George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, and Harry Truman—demonstrate through their actions and beliefs a strong commitment to promoting the mandates of the preamble. Nevertheless, they have varied widely in their views on the role of the president and how best to promote the common good. While the Supreme Court has never found it to be legally binding, and scholars have neglected it except for the opening phrase “We the people,” the preamble provides an elegant framework for the assessment of all presidents regardless of their actions or philosophies of government.

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